Liberal Churches lose members too

Dear Editor, Writing last week, Cindy Wooden says that ‘ecumenism remains high on the papal agenda’ (IC Notebook 8/9/16). This is as it should be. The Holy Father is to meet the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, next month.

Ecumenical dialogue is sometimes a case of one step forward and two steps back. Relations between the Churches are generally much more cordial than they used to be but within each Church today there is a strong divide between ‘liberal’ Christians and ‘conservative’ Christians.

What divides liberal and conservative Christians is extremely fundamental. Many liberal Christians doubt whether Jesus rose from the dead, that he founded a priesthood, that he was literally both true God and true man, that the Bible is the revealed Word of God. They disagree profoundly with historic Church teachings about the family and human sexuality.

To this extent, divisions between Christians have never been deeper. But whereas once Christians who dissented strongly from the teachings of their Church broke from it and set up a new Church, today they remain in place and divide their Church terribly. 

It is hard to know what is to be done. Despite the Catholic Church’s reputation for being ‘authoritarian’, it has disciplined very few dissident priests and theologians in recent decades. Maybe it hopes the liberals will burn themselves out.

Certainly Churches they have come to dominate do very badly. 

The Norwegian Lutheran Church, for example, could hardly be more liberal, but is losing members at an unprecedented rate. 

Maybe the message will finally get through that while liberalism might be popular in the secular world, it is not very popular among serious, observant Christians. They leave a Church that becomes too liberal, that conforms itself too much to the world.

I think that in time, theological liberalism will burn itself out, but it will do, and has done, plenty of damage along the way.

Yours etc.,

Louise Clarke,